As people, businesses, schools, organizations, and the government recover from COVID-19, so, too, must hospitals and health systems.

While restoring patient satisfaction and rebuilding trust among members of the community is vital for hospitals and health systems, of equal importance is the need to repair the breach in hospital staff and physician satisfaction and trust, acknowledging it may look different than before the pandemic started.

The burden falls on business and clinical leadership to drive change. Leaders must come together to assess the damage, determine the steps needed to make the repairs, and implement the required changes to build resilience in the organization—all to ensure the next time a traumatic event occurs, hospitals will be better prepared to deal with the fallout.

If there is a silver lining behind COVID-19's dark clouds, it's that hospitals and health systems have a chance to do things differently and better than before.

With that as the directive, here are four recommendations for rebuilding staff and physician satisfaction and trust.

1. Reinforce Your Hospital's Culture & Core Values

At SCP Health, we put concerted emphasis on how we can support clinicians and frontline caregivers through adherence to our core values and strong leadership.

“In times of crisis, like COVID-19, hurricanes, or other major disruptions, organizations that have focused on and invested in a strong culture can lean on their core values to serve as their moral compass or north star when rapid decision making and real-time communications are needed,” said Randy Pilgrim, MD, Enterprise Chief Medical Officer for SCP Health, in a recent webinar on recovering from the pandemic.

Takeaway: Stay true to your organization’s culture and core values. They are the moral compass that will guide you in the right direction.

2. Communicate Frequently Across All Channels

During the webinar, Dr. Pilgrim encouraged hospitals to communicate frequently across as many different channels as possible to reach all key constituencies. He also emphasized the role leadership must play.

"Consider how your organization's leadership capabilities can be a differentiator for you in your community and your competitive workforce marketplace in the future," he said.

Not only should leadership communicate frequently and enterprise-wide but also openly, actively, and sincerely. Now more than ever, hospital staff are taking serious note of how their employers handle important topics and situations and are expecting them to act quickly and with intention.

Be transparent about the strengths and weaknesses of your organization and how you plan to move forward. That includes addressing health disparities in your local community and what you are doing to ensure everyone can access and afford the best care possible. 

Involve your workforce in these discussions to get their perspectives and thoughts—they can be incredibly valuable. Consider using open forums, focus groups, interdepartmental task forces, and surveys. 

As an epilogue to this point, John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History,” speaking to the importance of communication during times of crisis, said, "In the next ... pandemic, be it now or in the future, be the virus mild or virulent, the single most important weapon against the disease will be a vaccine. The second most important will be communication.”

Takeaway: During times of crisis, make frequent, open, honest communication a top priority.

3. Build Organizational (Not Just Individual) Resilience

One word you hear time and again in business circles is "resilience."

In healthcare, while we expect providers to be resilient, we do an injustice if we don't also build resilience into our organizations.

A 2011 Harvard Business Review article—which could have been written yesterday—says the key to surviving (and even thriving) during times of crisis is resilience.

The article stressed the need for organizations to develop a "culture of resilience,” which "manifests itself as a form of 'psychological immunity' to, or the ability to rebound from, the untoward effects of adversity."

The lifestyle magazine Collective Hub identified five key characteristics of a resilient organization:

  1. The ability to identify emerging threats and understand their impact on all aspects of the business, its workers, and their broader community
  2. Strong and supportive relationships with key stakeholders
  3. Staff who are committed to working as a unified team
  4. Clear organizational objectives, supported by staff
  5. Clear direction from leadership

That last point is worth amplifying because building a resilient organization starts with and stems from leadership.

Deloitte says five fundamental qualities define resilient leadership.

Resilient leaders: 

  • Design from the heart and the head. They are genuinely empathetic but willing to make hard decisions when needed.
  • Put the mission first. Resilient leaders are skilled at triage, able to stabilize their organizations to meet the crisis at hand while finding opportunities amid difficult constraints.
  • Aim for speed over elegance. Resilient leaders take decisive action based on imperfect information, knowing that expediency is essential.
  • Own the narrative. Resilient leaders seize the narrative at the outset, being transparent about current realities while also painting a compelling picture of the future that inspires others to persevere.
  • Embrace the long view. Resilient leaders stay focused on the horizon, anticipating the new business models that are likely to emerge and sparking the innovations that will define tomorrow.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has developed a checklist for how to build a resilient healthcare organization. Included among the action items are:

  • Appoint a chief wellness officer and establish a professional well-being program;
  • Assess the current situation and evaluate how well the plan adapts to the present circumstances;
  • Catalog what was learned during the crisis and update the plan accordingly;  
  • Honor the dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of health care professionals.

(Click here to see the full list and download the AMA guide to building organizational resilience.)

Takeaway: Don’t only expect resilience from providers and staff; build it into the organization.

4. Address Workforce Challenges

The fourth and, arguably, most important step is to ensure you tune into the challenges your workforce is facing, including the ongoing effects of trauma, the additional weight of social injustices, sense of "moral injury," and long-term impact of COVID-19 on daily life.

“Many health system leaders today are concerned about the potential for provider and clinician burnout, stress levels, and even, potentially, some folks who may ultimately experience some PTSD type impact,” Dr. Pilgrim said during the webinar.

He stressed the need to provide support and compassion to the frontline clinicians who deal with the day-to-day uncertainties of the virus and how to treat it while keeping their families safe at the same time.

Related Resource: The Impact of PTSD on ED Providers

Support your workforce and make sure they feel understood and valued by offering:

  • Support groups
  • Assistance programs
  • Mental/emotional health treatment
  • Safe spaces within the hospital

Also, take note of what changes your workforce may want to see going forward—and be open to making whatever adjustments you deem necessary. Consider these suggestions:

Remote work opportunities. If partial or fully remote work is an option for some departments, consider making the opportunity available.

Telemedicine. Continue investing in telemedicine. The service benefits your community and provides your clinicians with a less-stressful way to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Partnership opportunities. Partnering with other organizations that have expertise in areas such as hospital clinical staffing, patient engagement, and revenue cycle services will help relieve the burden on your workforce.

Conversations about changes. If responsibilities changed during the pandemic, have conversations about what your employees and providers liked and didn’t like—and adapt accordingly. Also, don’t lose sight of development and growth opportunities; these initiatives and offerings let your workforce know that you are still invested in them.

Leadership support. Hospital employees and teams attribute much of their job satisfaction to their supervisors and their leaders. Make sure you're supporting your frontline managers so that they can support their teams.

Takeaway: Address workforce challenges and give frontline employees and managers the support they need to prevent physician burnout and PTSD.  

Conclusion

Now is a time of historic challenges for all of us in healthcare. Support your providers and staff by keeping the culture and values of the hospital at the forefront, communicate regularly across the enterprise, build a resilient organization, and address workforce challenges stemming from the crisis.

If you need help with any of those items, SCP would be honored to support you. Contact our team today.

Additional Resources:

Caring for Our Caregivers During COVID-19 (AMA)
Wellness in a Time of Worry: How to Improve Employee Health (SCP Health)
The Key to ED Physician Retention: Promote Work-Life Balance (SCP Health)